What To Expect When Your Feline’s Expecting

Grey mother cat nursing her babies kittens, close up

Do you suspect your cat is pregnant? If you have an outdoor cat who hasn't been spayed, it's very possible.

If you suspect your female feline is "with kitten," it's important you provide them with proper maternity support and care before, during, and after the birth of their litter. With this guide, learn how to detect your cat may be pregnant and how you can best assist them through the process.

Early Signs a Cat is Pregnant

There are some obvious early signs that your cat is expecting. You must know what they are so that if you notice them, you can have your cat checked out by the vet as soon as possible.

Some of these signs can also tell you how far along your cat is in their pregnancy.

The first and most obvious physical sign of pregnancy is weight gain.

Have you ever asked a woman, "When are you due?" only to be told, "I'm not pregnant"? Go ahead. Laugh. It's funny now, but not when it happens. The lesson learned is not to take physical appearance at face value.

Stripped cat walking along concrete sidewalk near grass

How do we distinguish a pregnant cat's belly from a normal cat's weight gain? It isn't always possible, but one difference is that in the first month of the cat's pregnancy, she will have an abnormally large and swollen abdomen. Typically, you can expect your cat to gain around 2 to 4 extra pounds during their pregnancy.

Another early warning sign of pregnancy is swollen, darker-colored nipples. This usually appears about 15 to 18 days into the pregnancy.

If your cat displayed symptoms of being in heat that suddenly went away, this may also indicate that your cat is pregnant.

Pregnant Cat Behavior

Is your usually aloof feline companion suddenly affectionate towards you and the other family members in the household? Is she a bit on the clingy side and more insistent on cuddles? No, she hasn't been abducted and replaced with a foreign spy. This behavior change is due to maternal hormones from the pregnancy.

You might also have a cat that becomes more distant, solitary, or even aggressive during pregnancy. This behavior tends to occur more in the later stages of pregnancy or near the time of delivery.

Another common behavior is that the expectant feline may hide away in a private, hidden space when she is ready to deliver her kittens.

You may also notice that your cat’s appetite has increased. In addition, she is urinating frequently and vomiting often. Yes, cats can also have morning sickness.

Just as prenatal care is important to humans, the same is true for your cat. As soon as you see any physical signs or behaviors that could indicate pregnancy, bring your cat to a trusted veterinarian to confirm the pregnancy through an ultrasound and blood test.

black, white, and grey striped cat lays belly up

What Age Can a Cat Get Pregnant?

You may be looking at that darling little kitten playing on the kitchen floor and wondering at what age she can get pregnant. If your young kitten displays any of these signs or behaviors associated with pregnancy, don't dismiss the possibility with a "Nah, she's too young."

According to the RSPCA, "Cats can reach sexual maturity at only four months." This means your kitten is capable of having kittens.

The breeding cycle for kittens usually occurs in the springtime and ends in the fall. If you notice pregnancy symptoms during these months, the odds are increased that they could be pregnancy-related.

The fact that kittens can be pregnant at such a young age is more of a reason that your cat should be spayed as soon as they are five to six months old. Many owners will put off spaying, believing that their cat is too young to get pregnant, and later find out the hard way.

According to ACCVets, "Cat spaying at a young age prevents mammary cancer, and spaying at any age prevents unwanted kittens, noisy heat cycles, and possibly even urine marking in the house."

Unlike humans, the timeline of a pregnant cat moves very quickly. A cat is typically pregnant for 63 to 65 days but may not go into labor until 72 days.

Another question people ask is, how many times can a cat get pregnant in a year? Since gestation lasts only two months, cats can scientifically get pregnant 5 times in a year! However, as stated, mating season is most prominent between springtime and fall, so it's not common that your cat will get pregnant that many times in a year — but is possible.

Kitten nuzzles near an adult cats head

Assisting Your Cat During Labor

How do you assist your cat during the labor process? Giving birth is not easy — for humans and cats alike. You will want to make sure you provide the utmost comfort and care to your sweet feline to ensure a smooth delivery.

You will usually know your cat is ready to give birth when she starts to become more reclusive. This is often referred to as her "nesting period."

Rather than letting your cat hide in obscure places around the house, make a designated, comfortable, and cozy "birthing nest" for your cat. An example would be a cardboard box filled with towels, blankets, or old newspapers. Place the cat's necessities next to the box. This will include the litter box, food dish, and water bowl. The litter box should be low to the ground with a wide enough entrance so your cat can step in and out with ease. Your cat should also have quick and easy access to food and water containers.

Labor Process

Before giving birth, your cat will experience contractions. You may visually notice the movement of their abdomen. They may be restless and go back and forth to their nesting box. Other symptoms to watch for include panting, moaning, and sometimes vomiting. A decrease in body temperature is also noted in many cats before labor.

The contractions will initially come and go before coming on strong leading up to the birth. Once this occurs, you should give your cat space. Under no circumstances handle your cat during delivery as this may harm the kittens and disrupt the birthing process.

The kittens will usually be born individually, about 30 to 60 minutes apart. The whole labor process should take no more than six hours.

You may notice a yellowish-red sack around the newborn kittens right after they are delivered. This is called the fetal membrane and you can expect the mother cat to lick it off of her kittens very soon after they are born.

The average cat will have a litter of three to five kittens, but a cat can deliver 10 kittens in one litter.

An unfortunate truth of feline births is that many kittens do not survive after being delivered. According to PetKeen, “The mortality rate, which is the ratio of kittens that die at or immediately after birth, is between 15 percent and 30 percent. This means that, in an average litter, it is likely that one kitten won’t make it.”

On the positive side, many cats will deliver a completely healthy litter.

Small grey kitten lays on stomach with tongue out

Cat Labor Complications and Emergencies

While you will not want to overwhelm your cat, you should always stay with them during the birthing process and keep your eye on them at all times to spot any delivery complications or emergencies.

If you notice that your cat displays straining for over an hour without giving birth, immediately take them to a vet. This could indicate the kittens are stuck in the birth canal.

Other symptoms of this condition include a kitten that can be seen in the canal after 10 minutes of labor, periods of bleeding throughout delivering each kitten, lethargy from your cat, shallow breathing, a dramatic increase or decrease in body temperature, and overall abnormal distress from your cat.

A vet can treat labor complications like these through an injection of oxytocin and calcium gluconate. They may also provide a C-Section for the cat. This is a surgical procedure under general anesthesia where the vet manually removes the kittens from the birth canal.

While these procedures are usually standard, and your cat will likely come out of it healthy and strong, there are risks. This includes but is not limited to stillborn kittens or a ruptured uterus which could be life-threatening.

A veterinarian will always do their best to ensure the health and safety of both the mama cat and her kittens, but quick medical attention is crucial to successfully address potentially fatal conditions.

Pregnant grey adult cat sits on white blanket

Postpartum Care for Your Cat and Kittens

Getting your cat safely through the pregnancy, labor, and delivery was hard work, but now the really important work begins — taking care of the new mother and her kittens.

Many people wonder if they can touch newborn kittens right away. According to The Nest, cat owners should wait at least a week to handle a newborn kitten. Kittens are very delicate at this time, and handling them could frighten them and also anger the mother.

There are a few exceptions. If the mother cat has not removed the fetal membrane, also known as the placenta, you should gently wipe it away — especially around the nose and face as it could disrupt their breathing.

If the kitten does display any difficulty breathing, you may do CPR by rubbing its body with a towel or cloth. According to PetMD, "It’s better to take your cat to your veterinarian before problems become severe enough to require CPR. But, when necessary and if performed correctly, CPR and artificial respiration may give you time to get your cat to your veterinarian."

The mother cat should pass the fetal membrane for each one of her kittens. If she doesn’t, you will need to throw them away yourself after wiping the membrane off of the kittens. Before throwing them away, make sure to count that the number of placentas passed equals the number of kittens born. If any placentas are missing, you will need to seek veterinary care for your cat to prevent infection and other health issues.

If the mother cat has not chewed off the umbilical cord, you will need to remove it yourself by tying it about an inch from the kitten and cutting it with a clean pair of scissors. You may also want to crush it a bit during the cutting to reduce bleeding.

Always use a clean pair of gloves while handling the placenta to avoid contamination.

Pregnant white and black striped cat with green eyes lays on a blanket

Postpartum Diet and Hydration

The lactation period of your cat is extremely important following the birth of her kittens. You should feed her a higher-calorie diet to ensure she receives all the nutrients for both her and her little ones.

Hydration is also important, so be sure to provide your cat with fresh water daily.

If you notice any abnormalities with your lactating cat or if they seem to struggle with lactating, make sure to bring them to a vet so they can prescribe the proper medication.

Spay/Neuter Your Cat

To prevent future pregnancies, it’s important to have your cat spayed.

When is it safe to spay your cat after giving birth? If the kittens are fully weaned, and one or two months have passed since the birth, your cat should be well enough to get spayed.

If you own a male cat, you should have them neutered. Overpopulation is a huge issue among animal shelters, and not all kittens are lucky enough to be born and placed into loving households.

Cat Pregnancy: Everything You Need to Know

There you have it! This guide taught you everything to know about cat pregnancy and what to expect when your feline is expecting.

First, notice if your cat displays any symptoms of being pregnant. If they do, get them checked out right away and utilize the tips in this guide to help them through their labor, such as providing them with a comfortable space and keeping an eye out for any health concerns.

Finally, be sure to take proper measures to prevent cat pregnancy, like having your cat spayed and keeping them indoors at all times.

If you found this article helpful, please share it with your cat-loving family and friends!

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